UK customer service: getting worse?
Over recent years, we’ve seen organisations focus heavily on customer service. Greater competition, even in mature markets, and increasingly demanding consumers have moved service and the customer experience up the business agenda. The rise of social media has also provided a global channel where customers can quickly share their views, redrawing the relationship between consumers and brands.
Since 2009, the Institute of Customer Service (ICS) has been tracking customer service, and its impact, through its six monthly UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI). Based on over 40,000 survey responses from more than 12,000 consumers and covering 189 companies in 13 sectors, it measures satisfaction with key measures such as professionalism, quality, efficiency, problem solving and complaint handling.
Up until the beginning of last year, the UKCSI had been on a continuously upward trajectory, moving from an average of 72 out of 100 in 2009 up to a high point of 78.2 in January 2013. But since then results have been falling, with the latest figures showing a score of 77.1. Only one (banking and building societies) out of the 13 sectors surveyed actually improved its performance, and 81 organisations saw their scores fall by at least one point. Even Amazon, the highest scoring company, dropped a point in its evaluation over the last 12 months.
This marks a year of decline in customer satisfaction levels. So, have UK companies given up on customer service? Clearly not, though the gap between best and worst seems to be widening. Looking to explain the findings, the ICS points to factors such as cuts driven by the recession, and a short term, quarterly focus rather than organisations taking a longer term view with their strategies and investments.
Perhaps the strongest reason for the drop is the unrelenting growth in customer expectations. Driven by our mobile, always-on world, consumers continually expect more, even from the best brands. What was outstanding a year ago is now merely acceptable, so woe betide any organisation that stands still. Consumers also judge companies irrespective of sector, expecting the same high standards from a utility or public body as from a retailer.
The ICS figures are backed up by Forrester’s studies into the customer experience. The analyst feels that the majority of companies are still in the first phase of customer experience (Repair) which sees them fighting fires and fixing issues as they occur. There are another three phases beyond this, culminating in Differentiate, where organisations set themselves apart and gain a competitive edge through the customer experience. The UKCSI figures should act as a wake-up call to UK organisations, and provide a warning against any complacency. Now is the time to review your current customer service projects to ensure they remain on track and have not lost priority compared to other, new initiatives. Four areas that we at Eptica believe they should focus on are:
1. Continually evaluate the experience you provide
Customer service is continually evolving, so your processes need to be flexible to adapt to changing consumer needs. Review everything you do regularly, and make sure you look beyond metrics to find out how satisfied your customers actually are.
2. Benchmark against the best
Obviously you need to look at how you perform against your nearest competitors, but go further afield. What can you discover from organisations in other industries or countries? Make sure you are continually learning from your peers in order to deliver the right experience.
3. Don’t forget the basics
What you think of as small issues can be critical barriers for customers. So while you need to look at the big picture, make sure that the customer journey is as seamless as practically possible, and that you act on feedback to smooth any rough edges from the experience. For example, if you say you are going to respond to an email within a set timeframe, then keep your promise. Otherwise you risk losing customer trust, even if you do eventually deliver what they are looking for.
4. Think long term
As the ICS points out, companies need to take a strategic view of the customer experience, and invest continually over the long term. It has to run through the DNA of the organisation, from top to bottom, with everyone realising that customer experience is part of their role, whatever their actual job is. Yes, it should be led by the CEO, but the whole company has to be behind it.